Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Stepping it up - Stickpins!

f you took my advice and are wearing pocket squares on a day-to-day basis, then you might ask how one is supposed to go about "dressing up."  You can wear a tie, of course, but so is everyone else.  My answer is simple - stickpins.

My great uncle with a
stickpin. ©Corbisimages.com
Back when occasions for dressing up included wearing a three piece suit to the beach, many gentlemen distinguished themselves with stickpins.  Stickpins are long-ish pins, ranging from 1.5" to 3" long with a small, fingernail-sized ornament at the head.  They were typically worn through the tie and shirt, so as to anchor the tie.  Unlike tie pins and tie bars, they are worn much further up, usually just under the dimple of the tie.  A protective back is worn on the point end so as to not bloody your clothes.  If your pin didn't come with one, these "keepers" can easily be purchased new.

Circa 1890, the wearing of stickpins with a tie was considered the norm regardless of your stature or profession.  The tradition started much earlier with the wearing of pins through ascots, and morphed along with popular neckwear.  Stickpins add a little "bling" to your outfit, but in a refined way that chunky gold necklaces and diamond studs in your ears or nose just can't match....

Stickpins can be confused with ascot pins and women's hat pins, so the buyer must be careful.  Here's how you tell the difference:
  • Stickpins are typically about two to three inches long.  If you find one that is longer than three inches, you could be looking at a ladies hat pin.  If you find one shorter than two inches, you may be looking at an ascot pin.  (Ascot pins may be worn as stickpins, so this is less of a concern.)
  • If you look at a stickpin from the side, you should see the pin portion turn 90 degrees before it reaches the ornament.  If it's straight, you have a woman's hat pin.  Give it to the woman of your choosing, or pass on purchasing it.
Stickpin Collector's Book
The ornaments on stickpins come in a vast array of colors, symbols, figures, and shapes.  Many have gemstones, others are carved from stone, some are gold, some are micromosaics.  There can be griffins, swords, armor, cameos, crecents, crowns, dogs, insects, intaglios, horseshoes, political symbols....or just interesting stones and designs.  There are thousands of opportunities to make a statement about your mood or personality in what you choose to wear.  If you want to read up about them, or get an idea on how much they're worth, I'd suggest you purchase the book Collecting Antique Stickpins: Indentification and Value Guide by Jack Kerins and Elynore Kerins.  ©1995 and published by Schroeder Publishing Company.  I paid a couple bucks for my used (but in nice condition) copy.  Also check out a segment of Antiques Roadshow on a fellow's collection of stickpins.

Some tips on wearing them:  First, if you plan to stick it through your tie, be sure to wear a woven tie!  Woven ties hide the holes that stickpins make, and can handle the stress of being stuck multiple times so long as you're careful.  I've always preferred woven ties, but I'll cover that topic another time.  If you insist on wearing printed ties, or if you don't like the look of the stickpin in your tie, another option is to wear them in your jacket lapel.

You can find stickpins in flea markets, on eBay, in antique stores, etc.  Prices can range from $20 to several hundred dollars.  Know what you're buying - several of the stones can be glass or paste (fine, so long as you pay accordingly) and the pins can range from steel to gold plate to solid gold up to about 18 carats.  Again, I'd suggest you get the book mentioned above and do some reading and research on past eBay items before shelling out more than $40 or so.  But try it out and have fun - it will definitely help you bouge things up a bit and stand out in the crowd.

Assorted Stickpins

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